09 January 2016

There is no frigate like a book, to take us lands away

John Latham, Film Star, 1960 (detail)
Tate Britain, London, 15th October, 2015
2015 was not a great year for reading. I worked my way through less than thirty books in all, with maybe another ten lying in various states of unfinishedness as the clock struck midnight on the 31st of December. It's not that I was wanting for something to read, far from it, rather there was a difficulty in both getting in the mood to read and in preventing outside distractions from derailing things once I had started.

I blame the internet, which is actually code for "I blame my own weak will and easily distracted mind", for there were many opportunities to finish off, or even start, more books, but more often than not I went for the fizzy-sugar calories of a click-hole and turned my nose up at the prospect of the leafy greens of literature, pushing them to the side of my plate and covering them with a napkin in the hope of avoiding disapproving glances from the waiter.

I talked about this with a friend over Christmas, who had managed to work his way through almost 90 books this year. He approached the year like an extended book club (several of which he has participated in), drawing up a long list in advance of books to read. In this way he was less tempted to abandon a book halfway through if he lost interest, and found it easier to start the next book as the choice was already made for him. This is a perfect example of the whole Paradox of Choice rote, that the more choices we have that harder it is to actually make a decision and to be happy with that decision. By reducing his choices to a minimum, less time was spent on decision making and more time was spent on activity, and there were far less opportunities for distractions to sidetrack him.

You can read more about his year in books here, but it was interesting to note that the despite ratio of fiction to non-fiction that we read being almost the inverse of each other, three of his near-ninety were ones that I had read this year (David Graeber's Utopia of Rules, Andy Weir's The Martian and Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven) and a further half-dozen I have read in the last two or three years.

While I have gone nowhere as far as he has in understanding my reading habits, if you were to correlate my most productive periods of reading last year with long-distance travel by train, boat and occasional plane, I imagine the ensuing graphs would produce some statistically significant results that would lead you comfortably to the conclusion that the best way to get me to finish a book at the moment is to lock me in a large metal canister with no wi-fi and pretty poor 4G coverage.

This year I will attempt to on-shore my will-power from what ever remote location I have outsourced it to for the last few years.

Either that or take much longer journeys by train.

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